Ending on Good Note

Our project team with mentor Professor Ellen Zegura at the final presentation

The final presentation on Monday evening was a great opportunity for us to reflect on all of the hard work and learning we’ve done on our housing justice projects this summer. Our first project was an analysis and visualization of Atlanta’s Anti-Displacement Tax Fund, and the second was an interactive mapping tool to assist the Atlanta Legal Aid Society with a case about contract for deed properties. Although these housing justice issues are extremely complex and without clear solutions, we are proud of the results and tools we have created, and hope that they will enable our community partners to use data to better advocate for housing justice.

The Anti Displacement Tax Fund

The Anti-Displacement Tax Fund was developed as a response to community concerns surrounding rising property taxes and potential displacement due to urban revitalization projects on Atlanta’s Westside, namely the Mercedes Benz stadium and the western portion of the Beltline trail. The tax fund promises to help prevent displacement by offsetting property tax increases for eligible homeowners on the Westside, but community members remain concerned about how effective it may actually be in the long run. Our goals for this project were to calculate the number of eligible homeowners and the total cost of the program over time. We also sought to make our results accessible and open to community members by developing an interactive web application and getting community feedback along the way.

Our team hit some roadblocks initially with data collection and determining the best methods to achieve our desired results, but we eventually found 410 eligible homeowners using Fulton County Tax Assessor data, lien data from the Georgia Clerk’s Authority, and income modeling based on housing characteristics and Zillow data. Using historical tax assessor data, we forecasted property appreciation and property taxes for the next seven years by comparing the Westside to the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, an area on Atlanta’s Eastside that previously experienced rising property taxes with Beltline construction. These neighborhoods were used to create clusters of properties with similar home characteristics and forecast property appreciation at the household level. By combining these results with our eligibility estimates, we were able to calculate an overall 7-year program cost of almost $1.8 million, much higher than the only other previous public estimate.

To make the data more open and accessible to community members, we created this online, interactive map tool: http://dssg.gatech.edu/adt/ The map shows a shaded region that represents neighborhoods eligible for the tax fund and dots that represent homes. You can search or click on a house, and information about program eligibility and forecasted property taxes for that home are displayed. An edit feature that will allow community members to update the property information to provide better eligibility and cost estimates is also under development. We are excited to have gotten great feedback about the tool from our partners at the Westside Atlanta Land Trust, and hope that it will allow both community members and policy makers to evaluate the program’s impact and alternative options. (View screenshot below)

Contract for Deeds: A Harbour Case Study

Our other project was an interactive mapping tool of contract for deed properties for our partners at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. You can view the login page for this map here: http://dssg.gatech.edu/housing/login.html. Our project is called JUMA, or “Justice Map,” and allows Atlanta Legal Aid to view properties currently or previously owned by Harbour Portfolio, a real estate investment company. Atlanta Legal Aid is currently involved in a lawsuit against Harbour due to allegations of discriminatory and deceptive lending with their “contract for deed” business model. Contract for deeds allow people who could not afford a traditional mortgage to purchase a home through monthly payments, but they do not receive the title to the home until the purchase price has been paid in full, and can be evicted if they default on any payments.

Our mapping tool displays information about Harbour’s properties, including the current owner and appraised value. The information can be edited and notes can be left on each property to help with organization for the case. There are also demographic overlays such as income by zip code and racial density by census tract. We have enjoyed developing this tool with feedback from Atlanta Legal Aid and hope that it will allow them to interact with the Harbour properties in a new way to shed light on their case.

Acknowledgments

Using data science for projects that benefit the social good is extremely rewarding. We are so grateful to our partners at the Westside Atlanta Land Trust and the Atlanta Legal Aid Society; our sponsors from NSF, South Big Data Hub, Georgia Tech, and LexisNexis; and our amazing mentors Ellen, Amanda, and Chris for giving us this unique opportunity to learn about housing justice, data analysis, and community involvement.

Week 9: The Final Push

After scrambling the past couple of weeks with paper submission deadlines and the mid-program presentation, we are now working on re-running our models, finalizing our estimates, and making updates to our interactive tools. Time is of the essence, as we need to have everything wrapped up and ready to pass along in less than two weeks.

We realized last week that our original income model based on home characteristics was providing some strange results, and incomes well above the IRS distribution for the region. This was causing us to under predict eligibility based on income, so we modified our model by creating dummy variables in the Consumer Expenditure Survey data to classify properties in the south, in urban areas, and with black owners. All of these characteristics are representative of the eligible neighborhoods in Westside Atlanta, and accounting for them in our modeling gave us results on a household level that more accurately mirror the IRS income distribution and actual incomes in the area. We are also re-running the other pieces of our models, including the owner-occupancy classification, total program costs under different scenarios, and the home value appreciation clusters for Old Fourth Ward and the Westside.

Above: Map of clusters of homes in Old Fourth Ward and Westside neighborhoods, based on property appreciation trends and important home characteristics

As we enter into the final stages of our project, we have set up meetings with our community partners to receive feedback on our interactive mapping tools. On Monday, we met with members of the Westside Atlanta Land Trust (WALT) to discuss the eligibility tool. While we got great feedback on our progress, we still have some important changes to make, including implementing an edit functionality that will allow residents to update or approve their information in the database. This function will hopefully provide some ownership, oversight, and verification of the data, as owners know their own household characteristics best. We are also working on reformatting the information displayed about the properties and creating a dropdown box for sensitive data, such as lien data and estimated income. It is vital to be careful and respectful with how we display community members’ personal data.

We are now also making good progress on the Harbour Portfolio (predatory lending) mapping tool. On Thursday, we will have a meeting with Sarah Stein from Atlanta Legal Aid to demonstrate our progress, including new demographic overlays, a Zillow search function, and classification of properties owned by plaintiffs. The tool is also now hosted on the Georgia Tech server! You can see our login page at: dssg.gatech.edu/housing.

Above: Current progress on our Harbour mapping tool

We’re hoping to have our modeling and web applications completed by Wednesday evening so that we can spend Thursday and Friday making our poster and preparing for the final presentation on Monday. Time is flying!

Housing Justice: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Last week, we met with our community partners for the first time, attended the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability (INSS) conference, and gained new insight, connections, and a clearer vision of our timeline and final products.

We met with Sarah Stein, an attorney with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, to discuss Atlanta Legal Aid’s work and to learn more about the case against Harbour Portfolio Advisors. Our main goal for this project is to create an interactive mapping tool to help Atlanta Legal Aid visualize the Harbour properties and other properties in the area to assist with their case. Although a group of Georgia Tech students started on a similar tool last semester, it currently does not have enough of the functionality that Atlanta Legal Aid needs for it to be useful, so we have decided to start over with our own Web App. Here are some snapshots of our app so far:

Bhavya, Keria, and Vishwa have already started creating the tool collaboratively using PHP, Leaflet, and some other platforms. We hope to check in with Atlanta Legal Aid frequently during the design process to incorporate the features that are most important to them, including search and editing functions, overlays for different racial densities and housing prices, toggles to view different sets of properties, sale information for each property, and potentially even information about past evictions. To support this tool, Jeremy has been compiling several databases with information about parcel characteristics and sales transactions. We are still awaiting data from Atlanta Legal Aid, and from Dekalb County.

Big developments related to our second project, Atlanta’s Anti-Displacement Tax Fund, occurred last week. We discovered a report by Matt Bedsole from APD Urban Planning and Management with rigorous predictions of the Anti-Displacement Tax’s reach and potential cost over the next 20 years. This is exactly what we had been hoping to accomplish with this portion of the project. On Thursday, Amanda, Hayley and some other community members met with APD and learned more about their plans related to the project. With the discovery of this information, we have to re-evaluate what we will work for this portion of the project. This weekend, we closely examined the report’s analysis to see if there are any factors we would like to experiment with through our own modeling. We are also looking at ways to make this information more consumable for the community.

Overall, we’re excited to get settled into more clearly defined roles on our project this week. The INSS conference encouraged critical thinking about moral progress and working collaboratively with the community, and we look forward to keeping this in mind as we develop tools with our community partners in mind.